(The Center Square) – While raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage remains a priority among Democrats, the latest proposal to do so comes from another source – Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican who represents Erie County.
Laughlin said his measure would raise the rate from $7.25 to $10 an hour. Tipped wages likewise would rise from $2.83 to $5. And, crucially, he said, the rates would be tied to inflation and rise gradually – preventing sudden shocks to small businesses when legislators decide to increase the rate every few years.
“I have heard from my constituents and have listened to both sides of the political aisle,” he said. "It is definitely time that we address the issue and I believe my bill is the most responsible way to approach it.”
Gov. Tom Wolf advocated for a seven year phase-in to $15 an hour in his latest spending plan, but the idea remains unpopular with the Republicans who control the House and Senate. Many lawmakers in the majority party consider the economic climate too fragile after more than a year of pandemic restrictions to consider any policies that raise costs for small businesses.
Wolf says stifling wages to boost profits is “bad for business” and that his proposal would lift more than 1 million workers out of poverty. Estimates from the Independent Fiscal Office suggest that raising the wage would increase economic growth – at an unknown cost to employers.
Laughlin said his proposal finds the middle ground. It includes measures that would preserve entry-level jobs for high school students and others new to the workforce, while still increasing wages to better align with the current cost of living.
“I think it’s a very pragmatic approach to an issue we have in Pennsylvania,” he told The Center Square on Wednesday. “I think this is the right approach, and I think this is the right time to do it.”
He said he’s heard from other Republicans who support the plan, including his prime co-sponsor, Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh. Browne also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"He obviously carries a lot of weight in the [Republican] caucus,” Laughlin said. "We have a legitimate shot at getting this done and getting this through the House, too.”
In 2019, Senate leadership struck a deal with the Wolf administration to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2022. The House never considered the bill and it died with the last legislative session. The General Assembly hasn't approved a minimum wage increase since it raised it to $7.25 in 2009.
Laughlin said he knows the bill doesn’t “play well in everyone’s district.”
“We are not trying to kill jobs here, but we are trying to raise the floor a little bit,” he said. “Tying it to the inflation index so that it just rises gradually – most of the small businesses I’ve talked to said they would prefer that.”